Click, Click, Boom
For the last three days of RAGBRAI, my pedals clicked. The harder the pressure, the louder the click.
On the hills, when my bike would just roll toward the bottom of some Iowa valley, I would only hear my tires humming, the wind’s static, and the occasional whoop from some biking bro.
But on the way up, it was there. Click. Click. Click.
After the first day, two bike mechanics gave their opinion.
“It’s a broken bottom bracket,” one said.
“A ball bearing is out of place,” the other said.
Day two, they got physical. One rode it around and couldn’t replicate it. The other put it up on a rack and adjusted a thing or two. One thought my mechanic at home was full of shit. The other made a comment about how my bike was the wrong brand.
I didn’t know the answer, and really I didn’t care. This was the only bike I had, and even if it was broken, it was my only way to the edge of the state.
And so the clicks continued.
Seven Million Small Problems
There are roughly seven million small problems that occur every day in our lives. That’s what lives are. Sometimes — every time — that’s how it goes.
There are roughly seven million small problems, but we have to push them away. We push them away by going to work, where sometimes we’re paid to solve other people’s problems. And then we go to hang out with friends in an effort to forget about these problems, and try not to worry about those problems (and then end up talking about those problems, usually). And then we go to sleep.
Management of those problems? I mean, man…
My mistake has always been thinking I could solve all of the problems. All of them — the eating poorly problems and the violin problems and the weather problems and the not hanging out with enough friends problems. All at once. Open the list. Control A. Delete.
But that list is long, and highlighting everything takes up too much processing power, and suddenly your eyes are spinning like a rainbow beach ball and you crash on the couch — not only ignoring your problems, but wasting precious time on a rewatch of The Office.
That just it, huh? That list isn’t going anywhere. And there are two paths: we can scroll to the end and cry, or we can deliberately knock off the things we can handle. The things that help us. The things that free up a little time for joy without bearing the weight of the other seven million problems.
That kind of project management is like magic to me, because it requires the realization that not everything will be put away. As a kid who delighted in mini-games and 100% completion rates, who still feels weird not having a copy of Ancient Melodies of the Future with the rest of my Built to Spill discography, this is really really hard.
If you can teach yourself that small thing, I figure, you’ve got it made.
Sure, yeah. There are real priority levels on that list. Sometimes you need to rush out with a bit of overconfidence and just get things done, even if they’re not perfect. Other times you need more deliberation, making sure the consequences don’t create another million problems.
And then, every once in a while, you look at something and write it off. Let it fix itself, or be forgotten. Keep rolling down the hill.
Letting the Clicks Fade Out
I kept riding. I reached the edge of Iowa, speeding down the last hill and toward the river, and the clicking faded away. There were no more hills — just a dip in the river, a van ride back home, and a few days of rest. When I got back on, the click was there, but only sparingly.
A few weeks later, it was gone.
There would be times, a couple dozen miles into a panting summer ride, when the click would return; an old war buddy returned to discuss the week we spent rolling through Amish farms and Bret Michaels concerts. I would push up a hill and it would show up to encourage me, to keep time, but also to knock loose a little nugget of doubt, to remind me of what I had forgotten and what I hadn’t completed, to wrap the weight of unfinished business around the handlebars and gently tug on the brakes.
But those times became less and less common. Eventually, they stopped altogether.
I never bothered to fix my bike. The click — the one that I swore was going to send my bike to its grave, the one that caused actual heads to turn amidst the shambling second half of RAGBRAI — just went away on its own.
And so I continued. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.